Human-AI Collaboration Enables More Empathic Conversations in Text-based Peer-to-Peer Mental Health Support

28 Mar 2022  ·  ASHISH SHARMA, Inna W. Lin, Adam S. Miner, David C. Atkins, Tim Althoff ·

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are enabling systems that augment and collaborate with humans to perform simple, mechanistic tasks like scheduling meetings and grammar-checking text. However, such Human-AI collaboration poses challenges for more complex, creative tasks, such as carrying out empathic conversations, due to difficulties of AI systems in understanding complex human emotions and the open-ended nature of these tasks. Here, we focus on peer-to-peer mental health support, a setting in which empathy is critical for success, and examine how AI can collaborate with humans to facilitate peer empathy during textual, online supportive conversations. We develop Hailey, an AI-in-the-loop agent that provides just-in-time feedback to help participants who provide support (peer supporters) respond more empathically to those seeking help (support seekers). We evaluate Hailey in a non-clinical randomized controlled trial with real-world peer supporters on TalkLife (N=300), a large online peer-to-peer support platform. We show that our Human-AI collaboration approach leads to a 19.60% increase in conversational empathy between peers overall. Furthermore, we find a larger 38.88% increase in empathy within the subsample of peer supporters who self-identify as experiencing difficulty providing support. We systematically analyze the Human-AI collaboration patterns and find that peer supporters are able to use the AI feedback both directly and indirectly without becoming overly reliant on AI while reporting improved self-efficacy post-feedback. Our findings demonstrate the potential of feedback-driven, AI-in-the-loop writing systems to empower humans in open-ended, social, creative tasks such as empathic conversations.

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